On Sunday, February 21, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli earned the right to race Emirates Team New Zealand for the 2021 America’s Cup. The Italian boat won the qualifying competition in the Gulf of Hauraki (Auckland, New Zealand) beating INEOS Team UK in 7 races to 1, demonstrating Luna Rossa’s superiority in every aspect of the regatta: faster boat, better maneuvers, an almost perfect positioning in the field. Owned by Patrizio Prada, CEO of Prada, Luna Rossa is led by Max Sirena. The 11-man crew includes the helmsmen Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill (an Australian). As the team celebrated—with rum added to champagne inside the Prada Cup that passed from sailor to sailor, they vowed to do whatever it takes to win the “Auld Mug,” as it is affectionately called: “We will leave no stone unturned to bring the America’s Cup to Italy for the first time in 170 years.”
The oldest trophy in sport, America’s Cup began in 1851 when the Royal Yacht Squadron hosted a race around the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. The schooner America won. The trophy was named ‘America’s Cup” after the yacht was donated to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) and the cup was dedicated to international competition in perpetuity. The contest is held between two sailing yachts: the defender represents the yacht club that currently holds the America’s Cup and the challenger represents the competitor yacht club. The defender and the challenger determine the timing of each match. The America’s Cup has not had a set schedule over the years, but the competition has recently been held every third or fourth year.
There has only been one challenger until 1970. Because of multiple challengers thereafter, the NYYC agreed to run a series of races with the winner becoming the official challenger. Since 1982, the Louis Vuitton Cup has been the prize for the winner of the challenger selection series. (This year Prada sponsored the challenger selection series.) The America’s Cup trophy was held by the NYYC until 1983—the longest reign in the history of all sports. Thereafter Australia, New Zealand, and even Switzerland (a land-locked country) have shared the limelight as defenders. Italy appeared on the scene in 1992 when Il Moro di Venezia of the Compagnia della Vela (Yacht Club)challenged and lost to America of the San Diego Yacht Club. Italy was the official challenger again in 2000—this time the Luna Rossa from the Yacht Club of Punta Ala (in Tuscany) challenged and lost to Team New Zealand. Despite being the original host, the United Kingdom has never won the “Auld Mug.”
The history and prestige of the America’s Cup attract not only the world’s best sailors and yacht designers, but also wealthy entrepreneurs and sponsors. The America’s Cup is a test of sailing skill and boat design, as well as fundraising and management skills. Competing is expensive with modern teams spending more than $100 million each. There are specific rules that each country must follow. This year the boats are AC75s, which are 75-foot foiling monohulls. They have no keels but instead use a foil cant-arm system for leverage. And they seem to fly at nearly 100 km per hour! Each boat has freedom in many areas of design but there are rules about the boats being constructed in the home country. Likewise, 20% of sailors in each team must have passports from that country, and the rest must meet a residency requirement.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli will now face Emirates Team New Zealand from March 6 to 15. This is the event for which the team has been training for the last four years. As the defending team, the kiwis are considered intelligent, skilled and almost certainly very fast. They have been able to sit back and observe their potential competition in the Prada Cup. For now, Italy can celebrate becoming the official challenger for the Cup. They sailed incredibly well in a boat that looks impressively quick. As skipper Sirena said on February 21, “It’s a beautiful day for Luna Rossa and for Italian sailing. Thanks to all the fans who pushed us from Italy…I hope, in these difficult times, we have brought joy to homes. And now let’s get back to improve the boat and be as good as Team New Zealand.”